Larry Willis

If Trees Could Talk

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If Trees Could Talk is a 1993 duo session with Mapleshade house pianist Larry Willis and Hamiet Bluiett, the pre-eminent baritone saxophonist of his generation (percussionist Asante sits in on the opening track). Judging from the producer's liner notes, he appeared quite wary of Bluiett's reputation as some kind of roaring, screeching avant-garde monster, but he really needn't have worried. At this point in his career, Bluiett had become essentially a mainstream player. Sure, he spends an inordinate amount of time in the extreme upper register of his instrument and can squawk and honk with the best of them, but his basic conceptual approach is bluesy and down to earth, and the "experimental" conceits he occasionally offers had been in common parlance since at least the mid-'60s. Willis is a capable if somewhat florid pianist and does little to spur Bluiett into any potentially uncomfortable areas as might have occurred at the hands of, say, Don Pullen. The end result is a fairly solid, though disappointingly bland, date. A couple of tracks, like the opening "The African," pick up a good head of steam, but they're balanced by formless songs like "Ballad for Frederick," where Bluiett's playing is sometimes painfully out of tune. One longs to hear the fire and imagination of the majestic baritone that supplied the earthy bottom to the early World Saxophone Quartet or the later Mingus groups but, on the basis of this recording, those days are far behind.

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